I think we are just going to go through spring practice and see what happens with some of the young people coming in that we are excited about and see where we need to fill in. Right now Michael, obviously, would be in the lead at quarterback, but I don't think anybody has a locked in position. We have had a very, very productive winter program. The kids have worked hard and we are all on kind of an upbeat right now. The best way we can have the most beneficial spring practice is to just have everyone in there competing. Anthony Morelli and Paul Cianciolo have really worked hard. Kevin Suhey, who just came in January has promise. I think we are just going to go at it and go out and have a little fun this spring and see what happens. I really haven't thought about playing Michael anywhere except for quarterback at this stage.
If Anthony Morelli begins the season as a backup, is there any chance whatsoever of a redshirt this year?
I don't think so. If you would ask me today, and you have to be careful of saying, Paterno said this in March and now he said something different. That is why we are going into spring practice. I think Morelli is too good to sit on the bench all of the football game. There are going to be spots he wants to play. I think he is going to give Michael Robinson a real run for his money. We will go from there. That is a little bit of an evasive answer, but I don't know how else to answer it. I really do not know what is going to develop over spring practice. I honestly cannot see Morelli not playing.
Most coaches say that recruiting is one of their least favorite responsibilities. As you have gone through the years, is it getting harder for you personally?
No, I enjoy recruiting. I have said that many times. I think most of you have heard me say that. As long as we can walk away from people we don't like, and some guys have had to recruit people that they really just did not like and didn't like being around families and things like that. My only problem with recruiting is the traveling. Our area is bigger, you have to get to a place faster, it is a longer recruiting season and you have to be in three places that may be 500 miles apart in one day. The travel gets to you a little bit, but as far as getting into homes and meeting kids and those kinds of things, I realize it is a little different for me because if I go and meet high school kids, they know who I am. It is kind of fun when some of the kids come over and say, My dad went to Penn State or My grandmother was a cheerleader or something like that. I enjoy it, I really do. Every once in awhile you get somebody that you are glad to get out of the house or out of the high school, but most of the time it is pretty good.
I was wondering on what your take is on the guidelines that the NCAA has set up to track the academic progress for student athletes. Do any of the initial numbers indicate anything to you about how Penn State is doing?
To be honest with you I am not quite sure how those numbers work. We have discussed it a little bit; in fact, I am going to meet soon with our faculty rep from the Faculty Senate Committee. The initial reaction that I have gotten from some people is that our APR would not be as good as some other people because our eligibility standards are higher than the NCAA and even a little bit higher than the Big Ten is. As a result, the stats may be skewed. I don't know. I do know that the important thing is, obviously, is the kid getting a significant education? Somebody said to me and put on my desk that so and so has a higher APR rating than you guys have, but they have a 47% graduation rate and a 16% African-American graduation rate. I don't know whether that is accurate or not accurate. The best thing we can do is try to find out what the NCAA wants to get done, analyze it, look it up and see where it fits in. Basically, I think each individual institution has got to make a commitment that they are going to bring in athletes to give them a chance to give them a bona fide education, work hard to get them graduated and do the best you can that way and hopefully win some football games, basketball games or whatever the sport may be. I have a kind of vanilla attitude about it right now because I really do not know how it is going to work and I really don't know how they are formulating the final ratings. One other thing, if you are on a semester system, does that have a different effect on initial eligibility, which I understand is in the thing, as opposed to people on the quarter system where they have three quarters for a year, three quarters to make up a tough course or is it a semester school as we are? Is it harder? I don't know. It may be easier our way. I have no way of knowing. I think there are a lot of things that have to be sifted through before we get too excited about it.
With some of the tough losses the team had last year, I was wondering how excited you are about this season to kind of start over and get a shot at doing something better.
I tried to analyze what happened to us last year, the last two years. It is not a question of two years ago we might not have been quite as competitive as we were this past year, but we were competitive. We went out to do some things recruiting, which I think will help us. We have a couple of kids that we have made some switches from one side of the ball to the other side of the ball, which will show this spring that I think give us the kind of opportunities to make some big plays, which we have not done. We have not had a kid catch a six-yard hitch and make somebody miss and run for a 50-yard gain. We just haven't had those kinds of things, since we lost Bryant Johnson in that class two years ago with the four first round draft picks, which was a really good offensive football team. We have got to be optimistic that the kids we brought in and the kids we have made switches with are going to give us a chance to make some big plays. I am excited to get spring practice started. I think everybody around our program right now is just sick and tired of winter workouts and everything else. Let's get started on Monday, see what we have, have a little fun doing it and go from there.
What are some of the exact position changes you have made, are looking at or experimenting with right now?
We are trying to get a couple of kids from the defense over on the offense, particularly kids like Ethan Kilmer and Jim Kanuch because both of those kids run really well. Some of the positions on defense are fairly well set. We have a little bit more depth over there so we are moving some of those people over and probably will have to move a couple of guys from defense over to the offense side of the football up front. A kid by the name of Deon Butler, you would not know, who was a walk-on who is really a very, very quick kid that in the middle of last year almost moved over, but I didn't want to do that. I didn't want to waste a year for him because he had been playing as a corner on defense so we held him out last year, but he is a very, very quick kid. Some of those kids we have moved over to offense to give us a little bit more speed.
When you were talking about the big plays with that recruiting class you brought in, is there any pressure to kind of open up the offense and kind of go for those big plays all the time or are you going to stick to a more run at offense?
People that have been around me know that I am not a guy that thinks that the o's and the x's win games, it is the people and where you put them. Every time we get in a staff meeting and we start putting o's and x's up there, I say, don't put o's and x's up there, put names in there because you can put one guy in a circle or one guy in another spot and ask him to do things he can't do. We, obviously, have been a little bit handicapped in doing some wide open stuff. As I said, a couple of years ago, we had a fine offense. When we have had the people, we know how to deal with them. In '94, we had one of the better offenses that probably ever played college football. I think we have to look at what we have and then do the things that they can do the best and go from there. If that leads us to a more wide open offense, I hope it does. I think the fans would have a lot more fun with it and everybody else. If you don't have people that can make some plays on the outside and you don't have somebody that can get in the football and you don't pass protect, it doesn't make any difference how wide open you are, you are still going to be in trouble. You come up to the Blue-White game or some other things from time to time and I think you will see us trying to make sure we don't underestimate what some of the kids we changed from defense to offense or the kids we have brought in this recruiting class. This is probably the fastest group of kids we have ever recruited and we deliberately went after that with the idea that we probably had to have a little bit more threat downfield and a little bit more threat with somebody catching the ball and making a big run out of it. We had to get some big plays. That is all talk. We will see what happens.
You mentioned Ethan Kilmer, Jim Kanuch and Deon Butler going to offense. Is that wideout?
They would be some wideout slots or something like that.
Could you talk a little bit about how serious Austin Scotts's ankle injury was?
You would have to ask the doctor how serious it is. I think it was a question that they had to do whatever surgical word you would do with a broken ankle. He is not going to be out for spring practice. He has not done anything in the winter workout since he broke it. He will be able to do some things in spring practice. He just can't get involved in the hard stuff. They will, obviously, baby him when he starts to get tired so he doesn't end up with another stress fracture.
Talk about how you sold Penn State to this year's recruiting class. Was it that they had a chance to play right away? The freshmen who have already reported what do you think they can gain from starting early?
We have had some luck with kids starting early. Dan Connor started last year in January and ended up playing. I think there were some things that helped us with the recruiting. Number one, was the squad. We opened up the squad to the parents and the kids when they came in and sat them in a room by themselves and told the parents and kids to ask the squad anything they wanted to ask. I think you have to give it to the squad. The assistant coaches went out of there saying, We know what we have to get done and let's go do it and then went to work and got it done. I am the highly visible guy, but I am not the guy that does all the leg work and all of that kind of stuff. The assistant coaches and the squad got it done.
Last season you said you thought you were only a player or two away from being where you thought you should be. Do you get the sense that the kids who came in January can help you get there?
I am optimistic, without putting too much pressure on the kids. There are about five or six kids that have all of the athletic ability to do some things that we have felt restricted in doing the last couple of years. I am hopeful that those kids are going to be able to do it.
Was there an acclamation period you think you are through with Galen Hall? He was upstairs and downstairs last year.
I think Galen is comfortable upstairs now. In all fairness, we were so limited on what we could do last year. I know you guys don't want to hear that. You are supposed to be able to open up and do anything you want to do. I kept saying to keep it tough and don't make it too tough on the defense. Our kicking game wasn't good. The punting was alright. We didn't have a punt returner. The field goal kicking was erratic. So we were in a tough spot. Having said that, I think Galen and the offensive coaches kept disciplined. They just couldn't make a couple of plays. Now Galen is going to have a little bit more things to work with.
I don't know yet. This has been going on since January. I have heard six different stories. I am going to wait. I'll try to do what is appropriate. I don't know any more than you guys know, really. I will be honest with you. It has been up, down, back and forth. I just want to wait and see what happens. I'll let the university handle it their way and then I will handle it my way.
The last two years you have said that you have had a young team. Does this group seem like it is going to have more experience for you?
There will be more experience on defense. There is no question about that. We probably will not be as experienced on offense. We will be better. The last couple of years we have played with freshmen running backs and those kinds of things. When a quarterback got banged up, we had some problems. I think we are going to be a little bit more mature and the offensive coaching staff have all been together for a year now and have a little better feel for each other and how to react to each other. All of those things will be pluses for us. I really do.
Considering how well the defense played last year and how many people you have back, there will be a lot of expectations. How good can this defense be?
It depends on whether they go to work at it. You can get by one year with doing certain things and you can feel good about yourself and get a little bit complacent. We have to understand that they have to get better. That, again, will come as a result of how they practice. In all fairness to them, they have really worked hard in the winter program. They are a group that think they can be really good. They have good leadership. I am hopeful that we are going to be even a little bit better than we were last year. If you are not better, you are going to be worse. If we are worse, we are going to get a couple of good lickings because there were some places in there that they had a lot of pressure on them and they were able to handle it. I am hopeful that we are going to be a really good defensive football team. A lot of that will depend on our kicking. Kicking always goes along with defense.
I still have very, very strong misgivings. I think it is to our advantage, obviously, but as somebody who has had children and somebody who really feels that there is a point in every kid's life where he should be enjoying it, I just think giving up your last semester in high school is a tough decision. I am not crazy about it. Having said that, these kids were determined to do it whether it was at Penn State or some place else. I wasn't going to cut my nose off to spite my face. I didn't have a knife big enough to cut my nose off. (laughter)
You seem really rejuvenated since the end of the football season. Can you talk about how you spent your off-season and how you feel heading into your 40th year as head coach?
I haven't done anything but football since my off-season, except I went down to Aruba with the Nike coaches and had a lot of fun down there. This is going to be a fun year for me. It is, obviously, a big challenge for me personally as well as for the whole program. I kind of thrive on those kinds of things. I have spent an awful lot of time on just trying to be a football coach. It is a lot different than it was when I started a long time ago. There are a lot of things that I have gotten caught up in and things that are expected of me that take up a lot of time that I have been trying to work my way out of. I am really feeling the neglect of all my grandkids at this stage.
One defensive player said that he is doing things earlier in the off-season than ever before. If that is the case, what is the difference between this year and previous years?
I think we are more intense. There again, every winter program is different. Obviously, if you are a young player and you have gone through one winter program one year and then the next one has changed for you, it looks like it is something dramatic. It isn't, really. Every year we sit down and analyze our squad. What do we have to do? Do we have to get stronger? Do we have to get quicker? Do we have to get in better condition? Do we have to get some guys to lose weight? What do we have to get done in the off-season to make each guy a better football player and find out as much as we can within the rules. You can't have a football out there, you can't do a lot of things in positions and things like that and find out as much as we can about them and try to plug it in. It is an on-going kind of thing. I have said many times and a lot of you have heard me say it, I don't know whether I would play big time football. It is a year-round job. These kids went home for a couple of weeks, came back and are in there for six or eight weeks and now they are going to spring practice, will get a couple of weeks off and then they will be back and will be getting letters about, Are you working out this summer? It is a tough job. We have done some things differently with the winter program, but we will do some things differently next year depending on the makeup of the squad.
We moved BranDon Snow back to fullback. He wanted to move back there. We have a kid by the name of Dan Lawlor, who was a very fine high school football player who came and had a bad back. He had a back operation. He has not been able to do a lot, but he is going to be able to go this spring. We are looking at him. We have a kid we recruited out of Ohio by the name of Jed Hill. I couldn't tell you. I have not seen some of those guys carry a football. I have seen BranDon Snow when he was younger. He wasn't a real good pass receiver and I told him that if he wants to play in the backfield he has to catch the ball. He tells me that he has somebody throwing the ball every day to him. I am anxious to see him in the spring.
Did you touch on moving a couple of possible defensive linemen to offense?
A lot will depend on what happens the next couple of weeks with the other situation.
Are you going to be looking at a true freshman placekicker?
We have two walk-ons that were out with us last year, Patrick Humes and Pat Rosenella. Obviously, the kid coming in is going to have a shot at playing and we are trying to get another youngster to come in as a walk-on. That is going to be a real big if for us. You look at Ohio State the last couple of years with that kid and some other people. Look at the Patriots. They have a guy that you get him in there and they get three. We have not had that luxury the last couple of years.
How has the offensive line been progressing over the winter and are you looking to maybe get some more guys in the mix this spring?
Our offensive line has been a concern of mine. Not because of the athletic ability. I am concerned about whether there is the mental toughness it takes to be a really good offensive lineman. The offensive linemen have the toughest job there is on the field. They go out there everyday and do the same dumb drills over and over and over again. As Lombardi said, The band never plays for the offensive line. There again, we have tried to challenge them this winter with a little different type of activities out there to push them harder. We got some of them to lose some weight. If we are going to be better, we have to have a little better operation up front than we had last year, more consistent would be the best way to put it.
I have had a lot of those guys. There is Dick Anderson, Galen Hall and there are guys across the board there. Tom is one of three brothers that played for me and I think that is a credit to the university and to the program. I am pleased to see Tom and was glad to see things go so well for us last year and Tom got the credit that I thought he deserved. He got the criticism before, which he didn't deserve and I think he got the credit he should have deserved last year.
Are you going to keep Dan Connor at middle linebacker and how does Tim Shaw fit into that linebacker mix?
We will go back and forth on that. We will probably have one kid play inside for awhile and then the other one on the outside and figure out what is the best combination. In fact, they may play both. The system is such that it is not tough to play inside or outside. So many times, the outside guy has to play inside. Formation has forced you into they give you trips, you have to slide the linebackers so both are inside. They both have to have the same keys inside. I don't think it is a big item. I think we are fortunate that we have some athletes who are not only good athletes and have the qualification because linebackers are also very bright kids and have very little problem adjusting to one side or the other.
You are honoring the 1994 team at the Blue-White game. Talk about what you remember about that season and those guys. Do you point to them as inspiration for this year's squad?
I hadn't thought about it as inspiration for this squad. I think this squad has got to inspire themselves. They have to develop their own leadership. That team had a lot of good leaders and good skilled people. The thing about it, obviously, is the fact that I thought they were as good as anybody in the country and they didn't get any credit for it because I tried to be a nice guy at Indiana and play some kids. So we went from #1 to #2. I resent that and feel bad for them because of that. I don't think anybody in the country could have beaten them. They had a great offensive line, four or five played pro ball, great wideout, No. 1 draft pick in the country at tailback, the quarterback is still playing pro football, the wideout is still playing pro football and the tight end is still playing pro football. That was a great football team and better defensively than they were given credit for because the offense scored about once every two minutes they got the football and the defense was on the field all the time. Nobody took that into consideration. Jerry Sandusky used to say to me when he was coaching the defense, Would you please tell the offense not to score until three or four plays.
Other than Austin Scott, will you hold anyone else out of spring health wise or is anyone backed up from the winter?
There is a youngster by the name of Matt Pavelic. He is a walk-on kid who has some kind of blood problem right now and they are not going to let him go. He is not a great player, but he is a good, solid kid and a kid that has been working very hard in the winter program. I am sorry that he won't be able to come out this spring as far as playing. I think everybody else is going to make it.
Are there any coaching changes or is the staff intact from last year?
No, we are the same.
What about Brendan Perretta?
You're right. Perretta may not make it. He is still having some problems. He will be able to come out there and do some things, but he will not get into any kind of contact. I think Perretta has had a knee and then his shoulder. He can't do any contact. He can't use his hands and things like that. I don't worry about the medical. I let the doctors worry about that. I have enough problems. I see my own doctor.
Did Gio Vendemia decide not to come back?
I tried to talk him into coming back. I would like Gio Vendemia to come back. In fact, I talked to his dad 10 days ago. His dad is upset he left too. I had Gio in and he is a very good student. He has a sister who is in medical school. He has two or three really good jobs. He is talking about taking the jobs. The dad is talking about medical school and I kind of got caught in the middle. I went back and called Gio over the holidays and got him on his cell phone and said, When you come back in after the break, I want to talk to you so give me a call. He hasn't called me so I figure it is a done deal. I think he is making a mistake. I think he should have come back. He is a pretty good player.